Top 10 Winston Churchill Quotes Of All Time
In an age before internet Winston Churchill stamped his mark and became one of the best known politicians of all time. His picture, silhouette and speeches resonated far beyond the shores of the United Kingdom and reached around the world.
Everyone knows how he led Britain, at a time when it was the country that stood alone against the might of the German war machine, a sole beacon of light and hope in the darkness that was enveloping Europe. He led his country at a time when people thought things were at their worst and helped them to accept that they would become worse still. He helped Britain endure. He forged alliances – some natural, such as the one with his mother’s native country of the USA and some, such as the necessary alliance with Soviet Russia, that were anathema to his political soul. Decades before Reagan, Gorbachev and Thatcher worked to bring the Cold War to an end Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill worked together to bring an end to Nazism.
Everyone has heard of his most famous lines, an exhortation to the people of the United Kingdom before the Battle of Britain: ‘we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender’.
There are, however, many more interesting quotes that this most adept of rhetoricians is known for. Here are 10 of the most interesting, many of which are also maxims to live by.
On Never Giving Up
‘Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.’
This quote is quintessential Churchill and is understood to originate from a speech that he gave to the boys at his alma mater, Harrow School in October 29 1941.
What is fascinating about the origin of this quote is that the Prime Minister, in the middle of the hardest struggle his country had ever fought, made the time to go to Harrow to speak to the boys. His speech followed a rendition of the school song to which the boys had added a special verse to praise Churchill and his leadership of the country during the war. As he explains to the boys the importance of courage, fortitude and endurance he talks about the position Britain had found itself in at the time of his last visit, just 10 months previously. Standing alone, without allies, poorly equipped armed forces and the best air force in the world attacking the major British cities.
Those 10 months, he explained, had seen a reversal in fortunes. The country was still at war but in a much better position. The country had, he said ‘only to persevere to conquer’. The lesson that Churchill taught those boys is every bit as relevant to boys and girls (and men and women) in the world today as it was in 1941.
On Drink (And Feminine Beauty)
‘Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.’
In addition to being a master orator Winston Churchill was reputed to have a wit every bit as sparkling (and perhaps sharper) than Oscar Wilde. The quote above is often said to have been his riposte to the statement by the socialist MP Bessie Braddock in 1946 after she had accused him of being drunk. This was verified by his bodyguard. There is a school of thought that claims that the statement was made not to Ms Braddock but to the Conservative MP Lady Astor who was the first woman to be elected (1919) to the House of Commons (the British Lower House of Parliament). Winston Churchill and Lady Astor (who was also a celebrated wit) certainly crossed swords on a number of occasions. She once suggested a perfect disguise for him at a masked ball would be to arrive sober. She also is reputed to have said that were she married to him she would poison his tea. His brilliant response ‘Madam, if you were my wife, I would drink it’.
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
When Britain went to war with Germany over the invasion of Poland the country was led by the Conservative Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. He had followed a policy of appeasement, refusing to engage of the German/Austrian Anschluss, failing to support Czechoslovakia when first their border regions and later the entire country were invaded. It was only when Hitler invaded Poland that he realized that Britain and her allies would have to stand by their commitments and fight. Chamberlain remained in control until May 1940 when a series of disasters (including the Norway expedition which had been planned by Churchill) made his position untenable.
Churchill emerged as the only suitable candidate to lead the nation and he formed a wartime coalition government. On May 13 1940 he met with his cabinet and then spoke to the House of Commons. This famous quote was made to both and defined the tenor of his wartime leadership. The same speech contained other well known quotes including ‘You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us, to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.’.
His speech may lack the grandeur of Shakespeare’s Henry V speech on St Crispin’s day but it is a brutally honest and incredibly effective call to arms.
On United Struggle
‘This is a War of the Unknown Warriors; but let all strive without failing in faith or in duty, and the dark curse of Hitler will be lifted from our age.’
Following the opening salvos in the Battle of Britain (the Luftwaffe’s attempt to subdue the British Air Defense in preparation for a full scale invasion) Churchill used this speech to rally the nation. At the start of the speech he had to explain why the British had taken the decision to destroy the Navy of their allied nation, France. (France had fallen to the German’s and all their military hardware became a German asset, the addition of the French ships to the German naval power would have made it a significant foe on the high seas).
Following this depressing news he uses his speech to prepare the British people for the reality of the need to repel an invasion attempt whether it comes from land, sea or air. At the time the British had suffered defeats in Norway and at Dunkirk so there was every danger that morale could sink dangerously low at the threat of invasion. He speaks of the fact that all friendly European nations have fallen and that Britain stands alone, he reminds the British that ‘We are fighting by ourselves alone, but we are not fighting for ourselves alone’. Even as early as 1940 he speaks of great confidence that help will come from the US. His speech reminds the British people that they, the Unknown Warriors hold the fate of the world in their hands and that failure is not an option.
‘I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter’.
As explained above Winston Churchill was well known for both wit and repartee. Despite a life of excess (food and alcohol) he died only in 1965 at the age of 90, his last words were reputed to be ‘I’m so bored with it all’. Given his poor health there had been significant public concern about his state of health in the years leading up to his death. Never one to avoid an opportunity for a quip he uttered the phrase above in response to a journalist who asked whether he was afraid of dying.
This statement seems to have been consistent with other statements he made on the topic throughout his life. In 1953 he told Lord Moran that he did not believe in another life but in ‘black velvet – eternal sleep.’ while in 1915 he had written to his wife (in a letter to be opened in the event of his death) ‘death is only an incident, and not the most important one which happens to us in the state of being.’